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I heard the guide say several times that we were going to visit “Sexy Woman.” Kathy and I were curious to know what that might be. When we arrived, the sign read, “Sacsayhuaman.” All of our fellow travelers, who had also harbored a silent inquisity about where we were being taken, were in awe as the bus carried us to a major Inca Fortress on the hills above the Inca Imperial Capital of Cusco, Peru. “Sacsayhuaman” was impressive. The foundations of the ruins still remain–huge stones weighing up to 1,000 tons. Twenty-thousand workers labored years to build the Fortress–quarrying, cutting, transporting (on sleds pulled by human hands) and setting the stones in beautiful precision. Such ingenuity and persistence!
The day began with a Cusco city tour to the archeological site of the Temple of the Sun. Covered in pure gold, it was an instant attraction to the invading Spanish conquistadores, who took all the Inca gold (22 carat) and silver (pure) that they could find and had it shipped to Spain. The temples were often torn down to use the stones in other construction, and colonial cathedrals were built on top of the remains. An earthquake exposed the Temple of the Sun’s foundations, and now it is a protected site.
We arrived in Cusco on the major holiday in Peru, Corpus Christi. Huge parades had brought ornate, larger than life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary from churches in the area to the city cathedral. When we toured the cathedral, the statues were on display. We admired the altars clad in 22 carat gold. “Look, but don’t touch, and no pictures.” We gazed in wonderment at the massive painting of “The Lord’s Supper” by a Peruvian artist as he used the inspiration of Leonardo daVinci’s famous painting, but personalized it for a Peruvian audience using tortillas for the bread and roasted guinea pig for the meat in the Passover meal. Judas was portrayed as Fernando Pizarro, the invading Spanish conquistador.
Outside was a big party! Thousands of people–young and old–were parading in native Indian costume (do not think North American Indian–there is no comparison in dress or music) with bands playing native music. It was beautiful and an explosion of color. You really did want to dance along.
We had another evening of “dinner and a show.” Kathy and I had mountain trout, and we both thought is the best trout we have ever eaten–and we have eaten trout around the world! The music and dancers showcased the Peruvian art forms over time. It was fast-paced, colorful and entertaining.We have met some outstanding folks on this trip. I have a special fondness for two widows from Florida who were New York transplants. They could be my older sisters. They are not only cute but funny! They both have a joy for life and, although alone, they found each other and risked traveling together. What a hoot! They do not cook any longer and Marcia told me Charlotte doesn’t even own pans. I tease them about this and, when they went to the cooking class, I told Charlotte that I was going to be watching closely. She responded that I would have to eat her food! Marcia said that would be the end of my trip. Well, I’m still standing. WEG
P.S. We could not post this blog yesterday. So, it is a day late. Today, we flew into Juliaca and then drove to Lake Titicaca, taking most of the day. This short note will suffice for today’s blog. There will be pictures and descriptions of the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world in tomorrow’s blog as we get back on schedule.
The weather is Quito is remarkably wonderful: 65-70F by day and 45-50F by night. Kathy and I stroll the streets past Ecuadorians in native dress and others in modern dress selling all sorts of items: plastic sleeves filled with apples or pears; lima beans in boxes; multi-colored shawls; bowler hats; ice cream and back scratchers, to name a few. The city is alive with people. Cars and buses vie with people in the narrow streets, the sidewalks being packed. El Centro is filled with colonial buildings, most in good repair and many quite handsome. Surprisingly, we do not find pharmacies or banks–which have been a constant presence in every country we have visited over the past several years.
The Church of the Society of Jesus, locally called, “la Compañía,” is our must-see for the day. To say that it is exquisite would be an understatement. Begun in the early 1600s, it is a baroque masterpiece. Considered one of the most beautiful churches in South America, its baroque splendor easily rivals its counterparts in Europe. Intricately carved and gold-leafed from floor to ceiling, with porcelain statuary adorning the altars, the church is a jaw-dropper. The ten side altars blend harmoniously into the whole, leading to the main altar. The gold ceiling reflects the light making a golden hue that gives a heavenly feel. We sit for a least an hour in silent contemplation of the faith that would produce such beauty.
We also amble through the Central Bank Museum, proof that banks do exist somewhere in Ecuador. It tells the story of coin minting, with artifacts, through the centuries in Ecuador.
Our hotel has pure hot water dispensers and anis tea. The tea helps with acclimating to the altitude and it works! Both Kathy and I are feeling good, maybe even exhilarated! Hmm, is it really anis tea? WEG
Going from the coastal plains of the Houston area to the Andean heights of Quito, in one fell swoop, was quite an amazing start to our Ecuador and Peru adventure. To paraphrase the Bible, “The attitude was willing, but the altitude makes one weak.” Thankfully, neither Kathy nor I have altitude sickness, but walking Quito’s rolling hills at 10,000 feet does work on the lung capacity.
Quito is a wonderful city set between mountain vistas on all sides. Our day took us to some of the colonial gems of the El Centro, or historic center, of the city. We purposely made today a moseying kind of day to acclimate ourselves to the altitude. Two churches that stood out were Santo Domingo (right by our hotel) and San Francisco. Both were begun in the early 1500s and feature Baroque Spanish architecture–beautiful. On our walkabout, we happened upon several marching bands in a parade along one of Quito’s major shopping streets–an unexpected joy of travel.
Our hotel, a restored colonial house in the city’s historic center, has a breakfast room with expansive views of the surrounding hills, including Legarda’s (Ecuador’s famous artist) Virgin, a winged icon of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city. Later in the day, we tried Ecuadorian food, shrimp on fresh coconut with a mango sauce and hearts of palm. Tasty. But the Ecuadorian beer was the highlight for me. It was as good, or better, than any I have tasted anywhere. Really!
Hopefully, tomorrow’s attitude will easily overcome the altitude. If not, I know where the good beer is served. WEG
Prague, Sunday, October 9, 2016
Going up to the castle high on a hill overlooking the Vltava River and Prague was easy since our tour included the bus ride up. We certainly can testify that this is the largest castle complex in Europe. We walked 3.6 miles on the castle grounds! There is much to see–courtyards and village houses and castle rooms and churches. St. Vitus Cathedral is exceptionally beautiful. The stained glass is bright and inviting. The remains of saints are housed in wonderful sarcophagi; a silver sarcophagus of one of the saints features flying angels and lanterns. St. George (as in the dragon slayer) Basilica was built in 950 AD. Going out the exit of the castle complex on the extreme opposite side as we entered, we expected to find our bus waiting, but, no, it was down, down, down the hill we walked toward the famous Charles Bridge that unites the lower town with the old town Prague.
Then we walked some more as we strolled into the Old Town to watch the astronomical clock strike six o’clock. The clock is at the entrance to a major square where we viewed the ornate and colorful buildings and towers that outline this large space. By the time we got back to our hotel we had added many miles to our daily total, but our minds were filled with the beautiful sights of the day. WEG
October 4, 2016
Rain fell all day in Vienna, but that did not stop the sightseeing and travel experiences.
The History Museum is the fourth largest museum in Europe, and it is excellent! From ancient Babylonia to the classical artists, the museum is filled with beauty and wonderment. I sat in the Rubens gallery and simply soaked in the magnitude of the art. Room after room after room of art by the world’s greats–it was overwhelming.
While Mike and Sandra, Kathy and Wayne enjoyed the museum, Allen and Rhonda and Sherlene went to the famous market street to peruse the foods that were on display from around the world. Allen commented that most of it looked really good; he just didn’t know how to get it home.
We all went to an evening concert featuring works by Strauss and Mozart at the Kursalon, one of Vienna’s major performing art centers. What a wonderful experience! The musicians were from the National Symphony and were outstanding. Often dancers and opera singers joined the musicians to provide emphasis to the various works. Our trip to Vienna somehow seemed complete–a music concert where so many artists lived and composed such melodious tunes.
Kathy and I did share a mid-afternoon snack of sachertorte, the famous Viennese dessert. Created for a Prince, it is a dense chocolate and apricot cake covered with a dark chocolate shell. It will quench the chocolate cravings of almost anyone. Yes, I let Kathy have the last bite. WEG
October 3, 2016
Up, up we went in a scaffolding elevator inside the beautiful and tall Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) in Vienna towards the dome painted with scenes of heaven. “We’re going to heaven today,” commented a fellow passenger. Petrified of heights and in an open elevator, I replied, “I just didn’t want to go today.” The scaffolding was in place so that the dome could be repaired and restored. Once we reached the dome level and stepped out onto the scaffolding, I froze, the scaffolding trembling and shaky. I saw a chair and asked Kathy to help me to it, somehow thinking that if I sat I would be safer. That is when I saw the narrow open scaffolding going further heavenward to the copula far above where they were restoring. Kathy said, “Let’s climb.” I said, “No way.” I could not believe they would let you, but they did. She insisted and said she was going. I said, “Go ahead.” She did. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when she returned from 236 feet above ground level, and we descended to the main floor of the beautiful church. What an experience!
Schoenbrunn Palace was the summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty, of first, the Holy Roman Empire and then the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Grand it is! Imagine huge crystal chandeliers in gold and white rooms in room after room, and you get an idea of the grandeur. The grounds are also amazing with magnificent gardens and fountains and statuary.
We are staying in apartments in a historic building in Vienna within easy walking distance to the State Opera and other areas of significance. The apartments are wonderful. Wood floors, separate living rooms, one and a half bathrooms, kitchens, separate bedrooms. While each of our apartments is different they all have the same wonderful amenities. Huge and comfortable, we are quite pleased. We had intermittent rain today, but we managed to stay dry and we ate at a highly-rated cafe coffee house nearby. Rhonda and Allen, Sandra and Mike, Sherlene and Kathy and I say “hello” to all our family and friends. WEG
September 30, 2016
The Tyrolian village of Hallstatt draws one quickly into its charm. The narrow cobblestone streets reveal mountain gingerbread-style houses stacked above each other on the mountainside with the clear and clean lake shimmering on the other side. A waterfall falls in the middle of the city just above the cozy village square. A Lutheran church with a beautiful steeple commands the square, and a Catholic church sits majestically on the hill above. “Picturesque” does not describe the scene adequately enough.
Our group explored the city; yet, other activities also beckoned. Mike and Sandra went to the unique ice caves high above the mountain lake. Not only did they do the remaining strenuous climb after the bus dropped them off, but braved over 500 steps inside the cave to see the ice formations that were like stalactites and stalagmites in regular caves, but made of ice in this cave. Wayne and Kathy took the funicular (a cross between an elevator and cog train) up the mountain to the world’s oldest salt mine. 7,000 years of production have brought wealth through the ages to Hallstatt and still today, 300,000 tons of salt are produced annually. Riding a run-away salt mine train inside the cave and sliding down steep 100 yard slicker slides into the mine depths were exciting parts of the journey. We did not know we had bought tickets for amusement park rides, but in reality, these activities were a part of the miners’ everyday existence. Allen, Rhonda and Sherlene went to the Bone Museum, where they viewed old skulls, displayed with the name of each deceased carefully inscribed for public view. Because usable land is scarce in Hallstatt, those who have been dead the longest are dug up, the bones dried and sculls inscribed, in order to make room for new bodies in the grave site. Sherlene took one look and fled the site. Allen took pictures and Rhonda looked for long lost relatives.
It was a fascinating day in one of the prettiest places on this planet. WEG
In our previous travels to Italy, Kathy and I had never been to central Italy above Florence. That is why we chose Bologna as a central location from which to take day trips to the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Many popular Italian foods originated from this region, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, tortelloni, tagliatelle, Ragu sauce, Parma ham, mortadella and prosciutto. The area is rich in farmland and old cities, including Bologna, Parma, and Modena. Today we spent a relaxing and enjoyable day in Parma.
The city of Parma is known for its university, one of the world’s oldest, for three beautiful churches in close proximity, and for its multi-storied baptistery. Inside the stunning Italian Romanesque Cathedral (Duomo) is the Assumption of Mary ceiling fresco. Painted by Correggio, the fresco is considered the world’s finest Renaissance fresco work and was radical in design. It changed the techniques used in painting and was studied by all the great painters who followed. It was one of my bucket list works of art. To stand in the stunning building and gaze upward at the swirl of three-dimensional movement as Christ descends, feet downward, to meet His mother as she ascends to heaven, surrounded by angels, was inspiring. I was transported into the scene, and that was Correggio’s intent. Outside the cathedral was the multi-storied baptistery, a building of great significance and architecturally one of Europe’s great monuments. Used for Christian baptisms, the building signified the architectural movement from Romanesque to Gothic design. We viewed the richly painted interior and stood before the ancient baptismal in the center of the octagonal structure with reverent awe.
Obviously, Parma is more than the ham for which it is also famous.
Thursday, August 27, 2015 – WEG